Monday, 31 October 2016

We're buying a house!

So I mentioned in my last post that it's been a bit quiet around here lately, and it's not just been because I've been busy - it's because I've been dying to tell you that we're buying a house!
We actually had our offer accepted two weeks ago, but we've been keeping it pretty quiet while we've been finalising everything just in case it all fell through, and it's been driving me crazy not being able to blog about or tell everyone! But today we decided it was time to spill the beans!

To be honest, the whole thing happened pretty quickly. We started viewing houses in August time, even though we're not due to move out of our flat until February, just to get an idea of what was out there and what we could get for our money in the areas we liked. It was pretty exhausting to be honest - one day we saw five houses in three different areas - and we weren't seeing anything close to what we wanted. Nothing was checking all of our boxes.

So we decided we'd go away to Spain and start looking again when we got back, but while we were away, Phil found a couple of houses on RightMove that we liked the look of, so when we got home we arranged to view them.

When we first viewed our house (our house! Our house! I can't believe it's going to be ours!) we actually weren't sure. Everyone always tells you "when you know, you know" but this was not the case at all for us on our first viewing! It needed a bit of work, and as it had been rented before, it was a house, not a home. It ticked all of our boxes structurally (huge kitchen! Three bedrooms! Big garden! Hallway!), but Phil wasn't quite sure about it, so I resigned myself to the idea that if he didn't think it was right, it wasn't meant to be.

But we stopped at my parents' on the way home (yep, we're buying a house a whole mile and a half away from my parents!) and when we told them about the house, my Mum really pushed us to reconsider and go have a second viewing, insisting that we took my Dad, who's a builder, to see how much work really needed doing. We were reluctant, but we managed to get a second viewing for that afternoon.

Our second viewing was completely different. We managed to view it with both my parents, and Phil's parents who could thankfully make it, and instantly it felt different. We could see past the minor work that needed doing, and could see the potential that the house had to be our home. We could see what the garden could be like, how the back living room could be a gorgeous dining room, how the small box room could be an office. Sure, my Dad confirmed, it would need work, but it would also be an excellent blank slate for us to put our stamp on.

And the second time, we did know.

I have a memory of us - my parents, Phil, Phil's parents and his brother - all stood around in the bedroom, talking about the house, and I knew. I knew this was our home. I saw the smiles on everyone's faces and I knew. This was going to be our home. 

And I knew when I was in a state of panic all day waiting to hear if we'd have our offer accepted. And when my phone rang, Phil's name flashing up, moments before I was about to go on a call at work.

"I'm really sorry, I'm about to go into a meeting. Can you tell me, yes or no?"
And Phil responding, "Do you want to buy a house with me?"

If I'd not been at work I would have burst into tears.

And now it's all the stress and excitement and frustration and oh-my-god-I'm-so-overwhelmed. There is so much to do, so much to think about, so, so so many conversations about money. 

There's also so much that could go wrong. We've had two meetings with the mortgage advisor and things seem to be going well, but of course, anything can go wrong, but we've got our fingers and toes crossed that it all goes smoothly!

And of course, it's stressful, but it's great fun too! I've got Phil pinning sofas onto my Pinterest board and talking about French doors and how we'll store all our books and DVDs and feature walls and trips to IKEA. It's such an exciting big step for us!

I'm absolutely gutted to be moving out of our city centre flat next year (and there will definitely be dozens of blog posts about this coming up in the next few months) but I'm so excited to have found our home.

We have a lot to sort out until we get the keys, and even then we have a lot of decisions to make about what we want (as in, we have no idea what we want!) but I can't wait to show you our home when it's finished!

Charlotte x

Sunday, 23 October 2016

How I'm (trying) to make more time

You might have noticed it's been a little quiet around here lately.
This week, I started my Diploma in Professional Marketing, which I'm doing through online distance learning, which means I suddenly need to find 4-8 extra hours per week, on top of working full time, running, this blog, managing a home, trying to maintain a semblance of a social life and being in a choir.
It's early days, but I'm already a little concerned about how I'm going to make it work without completely burning myself out and without having to give too much up.
I've mentioned hundreds of time how bad I am at relaxing, and how I really struggle to have down time, but at the same time I also need to have some unscheduled time in my week otherwise I feel like I'm drowning. Even if I end up filling that time with unexpected productivity, I need to have that time to ensure I don't get utterly overwhelmed with everything I have to do.

So, of course, I made a list. 
These are the ways I'm currently trying, or planning to try, to make more time in my life.
I have to keep reminding myself that this is not forever, and while somethings may have to give, they are only temporary. My course is due to finish next December, so while that's a pretty long time, it's not the longest time in the world. Plus I know once I get into a regular routine, I'll be fine. I just haven't quite figured out my routine yet.

So these are the ways I'm trying make extra time in my life:

Simplifying meals
Cooking is one of my biggest passions, and I spend an inordinate amount of time reading recipe books, meal planning, writing out ingredient lists and getting excited about what I want to cook, but I'm very aware that this is one of the areas of my life I could make much simpler in order to gain some more time. 
I've started planning at least one or two meals a week from the slow cooker, and allowing myself, if possible, one night a week where I can "properly" cook (and on this night, I can prep whatever needs to go in the slow cooker). 
I've also started to get double duty from dinners. I usually take leftovers to work and eat those for lunches for a few days, but last week I made a huge batch of slow cooker chilli, which we had for dinner one night on it's own with Greek yoghurt and a few days later as a burrito bowl. I also had it for lunch two days. Admittedly, after eating chilli 3 times in 24 hours you get pretty sick of it, so I'll probably want to mix it up a bit next time, but it was a relief to get home and only have to warm up dinner, not cook for an hour.
I plan to do slow cooker meals on study nights, so I can quickly warm up whatever I've made with a couple of quick accompaniments and be ready to start studying within an hour. I've ordered a couple of new slow cooker books which I hope will get me out of my standard chilli/curry/tagine rut too.

Leaving my phone in another room
I'm terrible for this, and I know I'm not the only one, mindless scrolling! When I went to Spain I had my phone on aeroplane mode for 11 days and you know what, I didn't miss anything, so I'm pretty sure I won't miss anything in 5 minutes! I've started leaving my phone in another room so I can focus on whatever I'm doing without wasting time.

Not running a marathon
I've already talked about my mixed feelings on not getting a London Marathon place, but for once, I currently don't have any races signed up for. I'm still going to run, of course, but right now I'm just running for the pleasure of running, and I'm probably going to mix it up with a few 30 minute workouts during the week and mostly run at weekends. Once I've got my running stuff together, headed out, waited for my watch to find GPS and had a few minutes walk to warm up/cool down, I can easily add 10-15 minutes to a morning run, so I'm going to do more at-home workouts during the week and run at the weekends.

Making more time for myself in the mornings
Recently I've often gone out for a run earlier than necessary and give myself half an hour or so after getting back before I need to get ready for work. I've managed to write quite a few blog posts during this time! I won't be doing this every day, and sometimes I need to prioritise sleep, but I love getting this extra freebie time in the morning to have a cup of tea, read a few pages of my book or write a blog post, and I could easily get 15-20 minutes of studying in before I need to get ready for work.

Not always sticking to a schedule
Okay, this is not always going to work, especially for me, but it's happened a few times this week. On Wednesday, after Bake Off, I decided to do an hour of unplanned studying, which was actually really useful. Then today, I woke up early and rather than going straight for a run, decided to do some work for an hour and a half first, and it really broke up my studying material. I've talked before about my need for structure and routine to control my anxiety, but this week it's really helped to do what I feel like. I had planned to do most of my studying over the weekend, but I've been finding it's much easier to digest an hour at a time (or two Pomodoros - which I'll be blogging about soon). Doing a couple of hours twice a week sounds much less daunting than four hours in one go, so I'm going to try to be more flexible with my time. 

Minimising unnecessary fuss
Again, as much as possible. Today I worked for an hour and a half in my pyjamas, and then, after my run, was going to head down to the university library, where I've heard I can fill in a form each time to use their internet. But after getting back, I was cold, and I just didn't want to have to do my hair, makeup and get dressed. So I put leggings and a hoodie on and decided to stay inside. I do work better when I'm in a quiet, distraction-free environment, but I saved the time it would take me to get ready, to walk to the library, to fill in the form, and to get settled, plus saved all fuss about "what should I do with my laptop when I need the toilet?", and just set myself Pomodoros to keep my focus. I never worked at home while I was at uni, and it is difficult when we're both home as our flat is such a small space, but I'm quite relieved that it worked. And I didn't need to brush my hair.

Accepting that something may have to give
Somewhere along the line, there's a good chance something might have to give. Temporarily. I might blog less, take a break from choir, not run a marathon next year. Who knows yet. But I've accepted that I have a year or so to really focus on this course, and I know it's a great step for my career, and everything I do can be put on hold, temporarily, if necessary. I already do a lot, and it doesn't take much for me to burn out, so I need to just try to be aware of any signs that it's getting too much and reassess. Of course, I don't want to give up all the things I do, because of course, I enjoy them, but I have to accept that I've taken on something new when I was already stretched, and that at some point along the line, I might need to make changes.

And if it goes a bit quiet around here, I apologise. I imagine I will be blogging less over the next few months as my brain is pretty tired after a full day of work and studying on top, but after 7 years, I promise this blog isn't going anywhere.

Charlotte x

Thursday, 20 October 2016

On achieving your goal

On Sunday, I ran a sub- 2 hour half marathon.
You know, that huge running goal I'd been fretting about for months but didn't think I'd hit?
Turns out, I'd been so nervous to tell anyone about my goal, my real goal, not just "I want a PB", that even my parents didn't really get why I was so overwhelmed with my time.

It was hard. In fact, it was horrible.
It was one of the least enjoyable races I'd ever run.
After my anxiety wobble on Saturday I'd almost given up on the idea of sub-2 hours and was starting to be okay with pushing towards any personal best.
I knew I was going to be so close, seconds, that I was going to have to push at my limit for the whole race.

For once, I controlled myself for the first few miles. Not doing a classic "run the first mile like a maniac, shave a minute off your mile time but then die for the rest of the race."
I knew I had to keep a 9:10 pace, and I started out running negative splits.
To begin with, the pace felt good.

I decided to aim to hit an average 9:10 pace about mile 10 (I have my watch the show overall pace, not lap pace. I talked about that here), but when I started hitting pace at mile 6 I got excited. But then at mile 8 my pace started to flicker between 9:11 and 9:12 and I started to panic.

I was so in my head and constantly staring at my watch.
I didn't feel like I was "in" the race at all.
It was a world away from last year's "smiling the whole way round" half marathon.
I was pushing hard constantly but I knew I couldn't ease up at any point.

At mile 11, I overtook one of the 2 hour pacers, but I knew he'd set off a few minutes behind me, and the other 2 hour paces seemed so far away in the distance. And I was so tired.

I had moments where I just stopped caring. When I thought, you know what, if it's 2 hours 30 seconds, that's okay.
I was physically and mentally spent.

But then it was mile 12.
And cruelly, a perfectly straight, flat finish.
You could see the Finish on the horizon like a mirage.
It was torture.

As I got closer and closer, my watch got closer and closer to that 59 minute mark.
But I had nothing left in the tank.
I wanted to speed up for the last few hundred metres.
Had to speed up for those last few hundreds metres.
But I couldn't couldn't couldn't.

Finally, with one final push, I sprinted over the line.
And, after stopping my watch with a cursory glance at my watch, burst into hyperventilating sobs.

I'd done it. A sub 2 hour half marathon. The goal I didn't think I'd hit today.
I cried and cried and cried and cried.
And then I saw Phil, waiting for me just past the finish.
We were both cold and wet and sweaty and disgusting and I hugged him so hard and sobbed into his chest.

Two and a half years ago, I ran my first half marathon.
It was 3 hours of pain, drudgery and mental torture.
As much as I hate to admit it, I've always been embarrassed by my first half marathon time,
And I know that's terrible. Because I worked hard, I'd started running 9 months prior and I ran a bloody half marathon.

But I've worked so, so, so hard since then.
And yes, this race was hard and awful and I looked at my watch every 20 seconds and I still can't quite walk properly but it was worth it.
It was all worth it. 
Interval sessions I used to hate, tempo runs, all the parkruns and long runs and the slow running that you don't think will help then magically does.

I've gone from being almost last -one of the last people to finish in my first half marathon - to being in the top third for my age category. Sure I'm not elite or anything, but that is absolutely incredible (and something I hadn't even thought about until one of my colleagues made a passing comment of "I bet that's in the top third for females" and I checked it out).

For the first few days I still couldn't believe it. Kept checking my running app. Kept staring at my splits. Still not believing.

This was a huge goal for me, and I'm completely relieved now. All I can do now is work on getting better!

Thanks for all your support!

Charlotte x

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Running, racing and anxiety

Sorry for all the running posts at the moment. With my half marathon being tomorrow I'm overwhelmed with running thoughts, as I'll explain in this post.
I mentioned in my last post the nerves it's normal to feel leading up to a big race.
What I didn't mention is that this is the most anxious I've ever felt about a race in my whole time running.
I feel genuinely sick whenever I think about it.

I'm convinced I haven't done enough training - that my 11 days in Spain (where I came down with a cold and horribly chesty cough, but still managed to get 4 runs in) will have completely derailed all my hard work, that I haven't done enough speedwork to get a PB, that taking a couple of days rest this week because I could feel another cold coming on will mean I'll feel rusty tomorrow.

I'm having kittens about how we're going to get there. What if the tram is late? What if I don't have time to go to the toilet (again - this happened before my marathon)? What shall I do with my keys and money? What if I lose something? What time do we need to leave? When do I need to get up?

I've been sure all week I was going to get ill. In truth, I never quite shook off the cold I developed on holiday because I was so worried about missing my planned runs that I did them anyway, which made the cold worse for a few days. Everyone at work is coming down with a cold and I've been smashing Lockets and Cold and Flu tablets all week.

And worse of all, I'm petrified of not getting a PB. And I think this is the problem.

My last two half marathons - the first one I knew I wasn't going to do well but I just wanted to finish, and the second I knew I was guaranteed a PB because I struggled so much the first time.

This time a PB is probably going to be work, it's not guaranteed, and things not going perfectly on race day could completely derail my chances.

And I feel like not getting a PB is the end of the world.

And I know that's not true. That's 100% my anxiety talking. It really doesn't matter if I don't get a PB. But I don't want to feel like all my hard work has been for nothing (note: I know that won't be the case, but I know I'll feel like it's the case).

I think part of the issue is that I don't race half marathons that often, only really once a year. So it means if I don't get PB, it might be months before I run another one. I think I put this race on a huge pedestal, that's it's a "now or never" chance, which isn't true at all.

I don't care about not getting a parkrun PB every week, and I run enough 10Ks in a year to not care too much now if I don't always beat my time, so maybe the answer is more half marathons, so when I eventually stop getting a PB every time, it doesn't hurt as much.

I know this is my anxiety, but I can't help it.

When it comes to running, my anxiety helps in a lot of ways. It makes me very driven, means I find it impossible to deviate from a schedule and keeps me focused on my goals.

But it also means a change in my schedule can completely derail me, and the pressure to keep on top of the schedule can be overwhelming.

I'm always pushing myself to improve - to run faster, to run further, to run better. But I don't always know if that's good for me.

Do rules and restrictions help manage my anxiety or do they just feed into it?

I know it doesn't matter if I don't get a PB tomorrow. But I just don't want to be disappointed. I'm not even thinking about my original sub-2 hour goal because it seems so far away and the pressure to achieve that would drive me insane.

I always say I smiled the whole way around my last half marathon, and I know, really, that should be my goal.

Running helps my anxiety a lot, but I don't think racing is always good for me. But without a race on the horizon I lose my focus, and I have to have that goal. And I love to race.

My friend Amy wrote this in her newsletter this week, and it could not sum up my anxiety more:

"I may be mad but I'm a very high-functioning mad. It's something my most recent therapist could never get her head round – she'd ask me what my anxiety or depression would stop me from doing and I would say "Nothing". I volunteer to do the presentation, I go to the scary social engagement, I start the new job, I put myself forward and do the scary thing again and again and again. My crazy doesn't stop me from doing anything, it just makes everything I do do a little bit shit. It makes me worry and obsess and panic. It's a little voice in my ear telling me that I'm wrong, I'm bad, I'm doing it wrong, everyone hates me, I'm useless, I'm pathetic. But yeah, I keep going and doing it anyway because the alternative is not doing things and that wouldn't be much fun either."

And that's me, 100%. Racing might be challenging for me, but I don't want to stop doing it just because it's hard. I want to keep pushing myself, but I need to make sure it isn't doing me any harm.

And all I can do tomorrow is my best.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

10 things that always happen during race week

On Sunday I'm going to be running my third half marathon. 

You'd think after two half marathons, a marathon and half a dozen 10Ks I'd be used to race week. 

But no, race week is always stressful and nerve-wracking and horrible.

And the same things seem to happen every time...

1. Phantom injuries 
Was that foot pain there last week? Why is my right quad hurting? Oh god is that hip injury flaring up? A whole host of weird injuries will crop up during race week, or at least seem to crop up. Don't worry that they're going to completely ruin your chances of a PB - they're probably a bit of nothing, or more likely, just in your head.

2. You become obsessed with checking the weather
Is it going to be too hot? Oh god what's the humidity like? Is it going to rain?

3. You will bulk buy safety pins
Even though you're sure you bought 100 last year. 

4. You'll start to feel like you're "coming down with something"
It will start with a sore throat, a slightly fuzzy head. Oh god oh god oh god. Honey and lemon, stat. All the cold and flu tablets. Do you miss you last run and have an early night? Thankfully, this is totally, totally normal. In fact, it's especially common to get ill during your taper as your body is finally getting a rest! Take it easy, skip your last few runs in lieu of a rest, and drink plenty of water!

5. You'll be sure you haven't trained enough
No matter how much you've trained, you'll beat yourself up about that long run you missed or not running your intervals at a faster pace or whether you should have been strength training more. Everyone feels like this! Even the best athletes in the world probably feel they could have done more! There's nothing you can do it your last week - just trust the process!

6. At least 5% of your brain is engaged constantly in running maths
So to hit a PB I need to be running a pace of this, but if I want to be under this time I have to be hitting this pace, and that means by mile 3 I need to be at this time, and maybe I should run negative splits, so what pace should my second mile be?

7. You'll panic over travel plans
What time do you need to be up? How early should you arrive? But maybe you should get some more sleep. What if the tram doesn't arrive? How long will it take to walk?

8. You'll make multiple costume changes (in your head)
Will it be too warm for leggings? Should I wear shorts? Long sleeved top or short sleeved top? Which sports bra? Which socks?

9. You'll probably make some kind of last-minute purchase
What if my Garmin battery isn't going to last the day? Maybe I should get a new one. What if I need leggings with pockets? Do I need a belt to store my gels? I'll get one on Prime.

10. You'll switch between excitement and fear and excitement again
The worst part of race week is the anticipation - there is no way of knowing what is going to happen on race day! You're constantly worried about doing something that might jeopardise your chances of a great run. But at this week you've done everything you can - so it's time to rest, relax and get ready to smash it!

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

On not getting a London Marathon place

Ever since becoming a runner, the London Marathon balloting system has bothered me.
Random selection does not seem fitting for something that requires as much time, patience, pain, fitness and hard work as training for a marathon.
It doesn't seem fair that people who have proven they can train hard for marathons or half marathons get the exact same chance as non-runners when it comes to getting a place in one of the world's best marathons. It's like randomly distributing As in a class when some people haven't put in any of the work and some have done everything they can - it just makes no sense to me.

Which is why, despite telling myself I wasn't going to, I applied for a place for 2017.

As soon as I started seeing my Facebook feed fill up with applications for the London Marathon, with a lot coming from people who didn't seem to run much, if at all, I found myself signing up. I couldn't help it! I was so frustrated! For me, signing up to the London Marathon when you can't even run a 10K is like wanting to skip to the last page of a book when you haven't even started it. Or a more appropriate metaphor, wanting to be at the finish line without the work.

So of course I applied. Despite knowing that this was not the right time for me at all, despite conveniently forgetting the hours and the pain and the exhaustion of training for my last marathon. Despite knowing that we move out of our flat in February and that February and March are probably going to be some of the chaotic months of our lives.

Now as you probably know, uncertainty is one of the biggest triggers for my anxiety, so not being able to make plans that a marathon place could affect started to drive me insane. Could I apply for the new Great Manchester Run half? Or what about the new Birmingham Marathon in October? The not-knowing started to bother me,

And then, last month, I decided to bite the bullet and sign up for my Diploma in Professional Marketing, a qualification I've wanted to do for years. I could start at any time, and dithered over whether to wait til we'd moved in March time, or until April "in case I got a London Marathon place", but instead I decided to sign up to start next week (coincidentally, the day after my half marathon).

And then after a 10 mile training run a few weeks ago, I burst into tears. 

My diploma is estimated to take 4-10 hours a week, and I suddenly had the horrible realisation that there was no way I could study for it and train for a marathon. I remembered the cancelled plans on Saturday nights, 5am get ups every day, Sunday afternoons where I could barely think straight, and I realised, this wasn't the time to be training for a marathon too.

See, I always want to do everything. If I had the choice I'd work full time, blog every day, learn Spanish, join a second choir, read two books a week, do marketing qualification after marketing qualification and run multiple marathons a year.

And sometimes I forget that I can't actually do that.

So after some kicking and screaming (almost literally), I decided that if I was to get a London Marathon place, I'd defer it for a year. So instead of dreading it, worrying about training and potentially sacrificing my career-boosting qualification, I could enjoy it.

But naturally, I worried about that too.

I worried that secretly hoping I wouldn't get a place would "jinx" it for the future and I'd never get to run the race. I worried about how to defer. I worried about justifying a deferral. And most of all I worried that I knew I would want to do it. I knew I wouldn't be able to say no.

So when I got home last night, and nervously checked the post, I was anxious to find there was nothing. Until I looked above the post boxes and found a red package. Addressed to me. 

It was thick and soft. There was some kind of clothing inside.

My heart sank, but simultaneously filled with excitement.

"I think I have news."

I carefully opened the package, ready to be flooded with nervous excitement.

But the magazine said "sorry."

I didn't have a place.

And suddenly I didn't know how to feel.

I was both relieved and crushingly disappointed. This was what I wanted, wasn't it? To have the freedom to run whichever marathon I want, whenever I want? To run a few more halves instead at the start of next year? To be able to complete my course without worrying about training?

But I was still disappointed. 

I know it wasn't meant to be. I would have killed myself trying to train for the run while studying, while working full time, while moving out of our flat and buying a house. I know it would have been too much and I would have driven myself into the ground.

But a tiny part of me thought I could do it.

And one day, I will. Today I'm going to sign up for the Great Manchester Run Half, which I've been hoping I'd be able to run, and once we're settled in our house and I'm into a routine with my course, I'll definitely start looking at autumn marathons.

But for now I'm quietly disappointed and partially relieved. 

Plus I've got a half marathon on Sunday to worry about first...